The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: In approximately 1300 words, this entry identifies major definitional categories for the concept of power and distinguishes between two approaches to the problem of defining power. But it does not provide its own definition of the term.
The entry begins by pointing out the many definitions of power contained in the social science literature. It organizes these into major categories based on the occurrence of certain key words: causality, intention, conflict, sanction, influence, prevention, utility, punishment, dependence, decisiveness and pivotal. In addition, in contemporary social science power is generally qualified as political, economic or social.
Next, the entry distinguishes between two approaches to the problem of defining power--the causal approach and the decision approach. The causal approach interprets power as a social causal relation, and thus proposes to measure causation as a way of measuring power. This approach lends itself to casting power as an equation. Various critiques of this causal approach are noted. The second approach, the decision approach, uses power indices based on the "swing vote," the ability to change the decision outcome by changing the vote. This approach, however, has limited application: it has meaning only in a formalized voting context where the players, their relative weights and the decision rule are clearly identified.